STERLING HEIGHTS — After four years of collecting donations and dispersing baskets to needy families across Macomb County, Amy Freigruber and her family are still in awe.
What started as a small initiative at Graebner Elementary, where Freigruber’s children attend school, has expanded to include 14 schools in the Utica Community Schools and more across north Macomb County.
“Last year it doubled,” Freigruber said, noting that the project distributed more than 600 baskets in 2011. “So it’s gratifying and it’s good because we’re here to help, but it’s sad because there are so many needs to fill.”
Donations to the Basket Project, a 501(c)(3) charity, are used to help families that have experienced economic hardships through the holidays as well as other specific times of need.
“The goal of the Basket Project Inc. is to provide individuals and families with non-monetary support and assistance during emergencies, Thanksgiving and Christmas,” states the project’s website, www.thebasket projectincorporat ed.com.
“The Basket Project will provide to the best of their ability, by the generous donations of the community, non-monetary goods, such as clothes, food, and Christmas gifts, to families who are experiencing economic challenges. We aim to assist individuals and families that are in need.”
Needy families are found through contact with school principals, as well as people contacting the Basket Project directly at (586) 850-5493 or at email@example.com.
The deadline for families to take part in the project is Nov. 16.. Once it is determined that a family meets the program’s criteria, they are given a form to cite their specific needs.
“We do understand that unforeseen circumstances occur,” Freigruber said in a release that noted the Basket Project would be including grocery gift cards this year, rather than food. “If an emergency presents itself, no one will be excluded.”
The distribution of packages is done anonymously, and Graebner Principal Linda Rediske said the project’s benefits are an inspiration.
“The Basket Project, quite frankly, is truly amazing and so is Dr. Freigruber,” Rediske said. “She started this out as just a small project, but she’s a very giving individual and so is her board.
“What started as something very small at Christmas has blossomed to this initiative reaching so many of our students and families. We had baskets that we could give to families with very important items that you don’t think about needing.”
Rediske said the Basket Project provides such items as laundry soap, paper towels and shampoo, as well as stockings for children, but that it extends beyond the holidays.
“We have book bags filled for kids to start the school year,” Rediske said. ”And, when we have a child come in that didn’t have anything, we could just go in and get a book bag. And you should see the kids. They get so fired up; it’s really heartwarming.”
And it’s the selfless example Freigruber and her teammates on the Basket Project provide that impresses Rediske the most.
“The neat thing about Amy is she does all this from the bottom of her heart,” Rediske said. “She never asks for anything. She’s always talking to us about coupons and donations, because they shop all year long and look for deals, so they can provide for more families.
“They never ask for accolades. They just do this because they are such good people. We couldn’t do without them.”
Items needed for donation can range given families’ specific needs, but such staples as gift cards, winter hats, boots and coats are always appreciated.
And as the program has evolved, it has found new ways to make donations go further and get the biggest bang for supporters’ bucks.
“We had a bag-decorating party, and over 60 volunteers came out to decorate plain brown grocery bags,” Freigruber said, noting the bags helped save money on wrapping presents. “That saved a lot of money. Over 800 bags were decorated.”
The volunteer efforts and ingenuity extend to what is in the baskets.
“Through Facebook I was able to connect with a lot of former teachers,” Freigruber said, noting former UCS teachers like Joanne Hart, who help donate 30 knitted hats for baskets, have chipped in.
Freigruber said anyone interested in donating items can contact her at (586) 850-5493 or at firstname.lastname@example.org and set up times to drop off items.